Justin Kelly looks to return to indoor Meet of Champions after injury-plagued 2017 season

Kelly is looking to replicate the success he had as a sophomore in 2016, where he advanced to the NJSIAA Indoor Meet of Champions.

Cherokee High School senior Justin Kelly has had a roller coaster high school running career.

As a sophomore in 2016, Kelly was one of the best in South Jersey in the 3,200-meter run during both the winter and spring track seasons. Kelly advanced to the 2016 NJSIAA Indoor Meet of Champions in the 3,200, finishing in 23rd place. In the 2016 spring season, Kelly finished in 10th place at the NJSIAA Group IV state championship meet in the same event.

However, last year was in many ways a lost season for Kelly. Multiple injuries limited Kelly in both the winter and spring seasons.

“I actually got injured once in the winter,” Kelly said. “I hurt my knees and took off a month. I started to come back and then got injured again with my hip.”

“Every time I ran a race, I wasn’t 100 percent,” Kelly added. “It really affected me.”

Kelly is planning to make the 2018 season a year of redemption. After months of getting back up to race speed, Kelly is hoping to get back to the Meet of Champions and replicate the success he had two years ago.

Kelly’s return from injury began last summer, where he put a lot of work in to try to make up for all of the lost training from earlier that year.

“It was pretty tough,” Kelly said. “We did a lot of miles in the summer and a lot of hard workouts. It was definitely really tough and I did a lot of extra stuff outside of running to get into top form. I swam a lot and I rode my bike a lot just to get a little bit extra.”

Kelly entered the 2017 cross country season with modest expectations after missing so much time the previous winter and spring.

“I expected to do some good things, my workouts were going a lot better,” Kelly said. “I just tried to make the best of it.”

Kelly had a number of positive moments during the cross country season. He won the Burlington County Open on Oct. 13, the Olympic Conference Championship on Oct. 20 and the South Jersey Group IV sectional meet on Nov. 4.

It was the first time Kelly had won any of those races in his high school career, but he felt he could have put up better times. Kelly was also disappointed in his performance in the NJSIAA Group IV state championship meet, where he struggled with cramps and finished in the middle of the pack.

This season, Kelly is planning to compete in the 3,200-meter run as well as some shorter distance races such as the 800-meter run. His big goal is to place in the top-three at the indoor Meet of Champions and feels he has a good game plan to get there.

“Just train hard, but be smart,” Kelly said. “I want to run a lot of quality miles, not to be kind of sluggish. I did that sophomore year, running a little slow and easy.”

Kelly said much of the indoor season is building toward success during the outdoor season. However, he is putting a lot of emphasis on the indoor season this year, realizing it’s his first chance to show everyone he is capable of being one of the best runners in the state.

“I want to do well in races indoor, because it will give me confidence going toward outdoor,” he said.